The secret tenant: pays £100 a month rent in London's Zone 2 while caretaking an empty building

Our secret tenant Tim Lowe turns to live-in caretaking of an empty building in Hammersmith in his hunt for a cheap rental home in Zone 2.
Click to follow

After saying goodbye to a YMCA Y:Cube flat-pack home, my search for a place to rent in Zone 2 for less than £500 a month takes me to Hammersmith to spend three weeks living as a caretaker in a former halfway house for young offenders.

The charity running the house is relocating and while the building is empty, it has employed security company Ambika to keep watch. The firm specialises in providing live-in tenants to act as caretakers.
It is not the most glamorous spot to bunk down for three weeks but by far the most affordable so far. At just £100 a month all in, this is amazingly cheap for Zone 2. But unlike the live-in guardian scheme I tried for my first experiment in low renting, where I was free to come and go as I pleased with no strict duties, the set-up is a lot more formal here. There are two of us caretaking, and one has to be present in the property at all times between 8pm and 8am, every night. This is enforced with regular spot checks. 



The other major difference compared with my stint as a property guardian rather than a security guard is that I’m not crammed into the building like a sardine, forced to share a shower with 18 other residents and an increasing rat population.

Ambika ensures buildings are secure and properly looked after, while overcrowding is avoided. This time I’ve got the comfort of a whole floor of the building to myself, complete with kitchen, bathroom and living room, with just one other housemate occupying the floor below. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s just say it isn’t the homeliest of environments. 

The decrepit interiors are littered with signs of the previous inhabitants, from punch marks dotted all across my living room walls, to signs around the building warning that those who continue to disobey the charity’s anti-drug policy will face immediate expulsion. Considering my earlier cheap-rent stint on a houseboat, though, I’m quite happy to have hot water and electricity past 9pm.


I’m sharing the building with Ross, a film-maker who has been living with Ambika for five years. We work out, between the two of us, who will stay in on which nights each week. Ross finds that committing to certain nights fits well with his work schedule and the many evenings he spends editing his footage.

He sees it more as an add-on to his job than anything else. He also doesn’t seem to have a problem with the 24-hour notice that caretakers are given, in the worst-case scenario, if they are to be moved on. When paying such a nominal rent, the occupiers have to accept a level of flexibility in return. 

This model may not be for everyone but if you are prepared to rough it, this is one of the most effective ways to save money in London. 

I’m now preparing to move on to my penultimate location, in a housing co-operative with three generations of a family on the South Bank. The transition from living with just one other person to a packed house, complete with animals and teenagers, could prove dramatic, but I’m very much looking forward to it. 

An original version of this article appeared in Estates Gazette. To follow Tim’s progress, visit On Twitter, see  @lowecostliving, Estates Gazette @estatesgazette, or Knight Frank @knightfrank.

Caretaking: how it works 
Tim is working with Ambika, a security firm contracted to occupy vacant properties. Each property has a minimum of two caretakers who must work as a team and share tasks, including:
* Providing a resident caretaker service at all times from 8pm to 8am
* Checking regularly on doors, windows, and for problems such as leaking pipes etc
* Keeping the property clean and safe
* Reporting all incidents/ problems to Ambika 
* Forwarding  utility bills and other important correspondence 
* Giving notice of all planned holidays or absences from the property

Follow us on Twitter @HomesProperty, Facebook and Instagram